Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: April 8

Convergence #1 (DC Comics) It's going to be a pretty long two months for DC Comics fans, huh?

The $4.99, 30-page first issue of this weekly event series just about catches readers up to the plot points that DC has been openly advertising and discussing for months now. Last week's 30-page #0 issue was spent revealing the fact that there is a Multiverse, and that Brainiac has been collecting cities from various doomed timelines within it on a sentient planet. This issue gives that sentient planet its name—Telos—and the big climax is the revelation of the premise of the series, which we've all known for months now: Various characters from various cities from various realities will have to fight one another for the survival of their homes.

So far, then, the creators of Convergence have spent about 60-pages getting to the premise of the series. That's...not encouraging. This issue, entitled "Domesday," has a different creative team than the #0 issue—with the exception of Jeff King, who co-wrote both—although it's quality is about equivalent. Scott Lobdell is King's co-writer here, while Carlos Pagulayan pencils and Jason Paz inks.

We begin in media res in what I suppose is the setting of the based-on-the-videogame comic book series Injustice ("A city where a great injustice was done," a Superman narrates, "To me"), although things are at a very different point then where they were when I last read any of it (I've read the first two trades). Superman has an S-shaped scar over one eye, and was maybe in jail? He argues with Batman, Flash and Harley Quinn as Telos seemingly destroys them and their timeline's version of Gotham City.

The rest of the issue consists of a few survivors of Earth 2: World's End—Green Lantern, The Flash, Batman II, Superman II, Dick Grayson and Yolanda Montez–appearing in the alien desert landscape of Telos, and then listening to Telos tell them how it's going to be. You know, different cities from different realities fighting one another.

It's all a lot more complicated than it needs to be, although that won't become apparent until one reads the tie-ins. But apparently the captured cities have been trapped under force-field domes for an entire year, and champions from each are just now beginning their death matches. So the plot of Convergence is basically that of the original Secret Wars and Countdown: Arena, with a bit of Stephen King's Under The Dome mixed in...?

While the premise is simple enough to explain, the execution seems to vary from tie-in to tie-in, and can be pretty over-complicated. If a reader were just looking forward to, say, seeing the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl or married Superman again, they're going to likely be rather disappointed that there's all this dome business and contest of champions shit going on.

The concept of doomed timelines has given me a pretty incredible headache too, as I try to wrap my head around the mechanics of what Brainiac and Telos have accomplished, exactly. It was my understanding, and Multiversity seems to bear this out, that the New 52 universe wasn't an entirely new entity created from scratch, but rather an altered version of the pre-Flashpoint DCU. In fact, all of DC's rejiggerings of their Multiverse and/or timelines occurred in continuity, and, whatever was changed, was changed as part of a story, right?

So, let's stick with Stephanie Brown for a moment. The Stephanie Brown that appeared in Batman Eternal (i.e. after Flashpoint, during the New 52 status quo) is the same Stephanie Brown—like, ontologically—as the pre-Flashpoint version, but the changes made to the timeline by The Flashes and Pandora's mysterious, still never-explained tinkering altered the fabric of the universe, so that the specifics of her history were different, but she was still herself.

Or let's take Batman. The New 52 Batman of Earth-0 is the same pre-Flashpoint Batman of New Earth, who was the same pre-Infinite Crisis Batman of the DC Universe, who was the same post-Crisis Batman, who was the same Batman of pre-Crisis Earth-1, right? Like, details might have changed, but he is the same essential person?

That's what I've always thought, but I'm having trouble reconciling the existence of these characters under these domes with the fact that so many of them—almost all of those that appear in this week's tie-ins, for example—exist post-Flashpoint. Part of me naturally enough wants to tell the rest of me not to think too much about it, as it's comics, but, on the other hand, it's the entire basis of this event series, so it's actually kind of integral to the proceedings, isn't it?

Anyway, wrestling with these issues proved to be the most diverting part of this particular issue, in which nothing happened. Maybe next issue?

Convergence: Batgirl #1 (DC) My local comic shop only had a single issue of this particular tie-in left when I got there around 5:30 today, so I had no choice—I had to purchase the one with the stupid Chip Kidd designed cover, in which a blown-up image of an old piece of Pere Perez and Guy Major art fades into blue. Not white or black, as one might expect—when the timeline was being destroyed during Zero Hour, the tie-ins ended with the panels fading into blank white pages—but blue. I guess it maybe has something meta to say about the four-color nature of comics, back in the day? Whatever the case, they're not very nice-looking covers.

This means either that this was a particularly popular Convergence tie-in at my shop—almost as popular as Nightwing/Oracle, which was sold-out completely—or my shop didn't order enough copies. I remember asking the owner about how he planned to order Convergence a few months back, and he said he was going to be looking to the subscriptions for guidance, as he didn't really have any idea how the books would sell based on the premise and the fact that they were unrelated to the books currently on the stands.

Before we get to the actual comics, I wanted to note the ancillary material, which we are apparently being charged for, as this cost $3.99, despite running only 22 pages. The inside front cover looks like this:
I have no idea how to read that, in terms of which city is fighting/competing with which city. Are all five fighting one another? Or is it Pre-Flashpoint Gotham City, which is so much bigger than the other four, vs. those other four?

There's a similarly hard-to-read two-page prose and picture feature in the back, which shows various panels from various comics (with none of the artists credited) and paragraphs of information about the Batgirls. They're arranged so haphazardly though that I was unsure how to even read them; like, in which order to read which paragraphs. These will be features in all of the tie-ins, apparently, based on those I've read and/or flipped-through so far this week.

Now, this week is pre-Flashpoint week, so all of the titles are set in the DC Universe that existed before The New 52-boot, or, as Tom Bondurant likes to call it, "Earth-August" (as The New 52 launched in September of 2011). So the Batgirl in question is Stephanie Brown, who was starring in the Bryan Q. Miller-written Batgirl series that got canceled to make way for the New 52, Gail Simone-written Batgirl starring a un-paralyzed Barbara Gordon.

Oddly, DC did not hire Miller to write this series, or an artist associated with that volume of Batgirl. Or maybe it's not that odd, as this Batgirl has been changed by spending a year living in a city completely cut off from the outside world.

The writer is instead former Vertigo editor, The Dreaming writer and prose novelist Alisa Kwitney, working with pencil artist Rick Leonardi and inker Mark Pennington, whose work here is really, really rough.

We begin with Batgirl, Black Bat (and former Batgirl) Cassandra Cain and Red Robin Tim Drake all camping out in the desert of Telos. Apparently Batgirl was the one chosen to fight for her Gotham (in this book, anyway), and her friends are just there to support her.

She's attacked by the Flashpoint versions of Catman and then Gorilla Grodd, both of whom appear to be the same as the DCU versions. Then we flashback to the events leading up to this, as Stephanie tells us about her life after her Gotham was domed. She quit being Batgirl to instead devote herself to midwifery, while sharing an apartment with Cassandra Cain, who kept on superheroing. Lucky for Cass she was visiting Gotham from Hong Kong when the dome came down, I guess? Not sure what's up with Batman and the extended Bat-family; they don't come up.

I like all three of these characters a whole lot, and would really like to read a comic book about Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, roommates, perhaps with a love triangle or team-up triangle with Tim Drake. This hints at that, but is instead focused on the plot, leaving little room for character interaction. So, as predicted, this is DC giving fans exactly what they want, in a way they don't want it.

Ah well. It's still nice to see Cassandra Cain again, and to see Tim Drake wearing a less godawful costume than he wears in The New 52...

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle (DC) Here at least DC hired a writer who was writing one of the title characters prior to Flashpoint—Gail Simone, who has probably at this point written as many pages of Barbara Gordon comics as anyone else in the history of the character. She has Gordon narrating the issue, which goes a long way towards making it clear exactly what's going on and doing so much more efficiently than Kwitney managed in Batgirl but, on the other hand, there are a couple of scenes that Gordon's not privy too, and thus having her as a narrator doesn't really make a lick of sense. I mean, it kinda/sorta works in comics, if you translate narration boxes into thought clouds, but it wouldn't fly in other media, and doesn't really work here either, without one making a conscious effort to either ignore it, or make the effort to think of narration as thought clouds.

Her narration kind of gets in the way at times too, particularly during an action scene in which Nightwing takes on Mister Freeze, and his fight chatter and acts of derring do are constantly interrupted by her mopey thoughts on having been domed.

So it's been a year here too, and Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are dating. Dick's ready to take it to the next level, after consulting with his friend and former fiancee Starfire, drawn here wearing her most conservative costume ever (By the way, what the fuck is Starfire doing in Gotham? Is it weird that Dick talks to her about proposing to Babs instead of Batman or Alfred, neither of whom are mentioned here?).

Their opponents are the Flashpoint versions of Hawkman and Hawkwoman; I don't think I read whichever tie-ins they were in, but I kind of like how barbarian-esque they are drawn here. They kick Nighwing's ass a little, offer the pair a radical proposal and then fly off, while Barbara Gordon alludes to Watchmen.

This issue is penciled by Jan Duursema, and while I'm always going to be a pro-Duursema partisan, I liked it an awful lot (and it's cool she got to draw Hawks again, having drawn one of DC's Hawkman titles for a while). I'm not crazy about the re-design of Nightwing's costume—although it's still better than the New 52 redesign!—but she's equally good at the action and "acting." I confess to liking cover artist Jill Thompson's work even more though, and would have loved to read 22 pages of her versions of these characters.

Saga #27 (Image Comics) Marko trips balls, his twisted memories helping him come to grips with his own troubling relationship with violence, from childhood to his time as a soldier to his present, unfortunate circumstances. Meanwhile, Prince Robot and that little baby seal-looking guy are in their adorable night clothes, trying to figure out what to do. My favorite part, however, is the panel above. I can't tell you how fascinated I am by Robot anatomy and biology, so I really appreciated seeing one's skeleton in the doctor's office.

SpongeBob Comics #43 (United Plankton Pictures) I've come to expect the unexpected when it comes to this title, but I was still shocked to see that the cover was drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, who also provides a pin-up/poster related to Derek Drymon and Gregg Schiegiel's story "Fry Cook 2.0," in which SpongeBob becomes one with the kitchen of the Krusty Krab.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #6 (IDW) This issue is completely off-the-charts insane, even by the standards of this series, which has, from issue #0, always been completely insane. I mean, it's been the most insane book on the stands since it launched, and the fact that it is based on two corporate-owned toy licenses only makes it a million times more so.

The climax is a jam-packed, two-page splash in which, oh man, in which General Flagg fights of the GIJONIN ninjas on the arms of Brutuicus, a combiner composed of Combaticons disguised as various Joe vehicles, one of which is a Tomahawk, it's rotors still whirling, blending ninjas into mist...while the strange snake god-monster Koh-Buru-LaH approaches over the horizon of New York City...while Showckwave and Starscream play tug-of-war with a winged, sword-wielding Optimus Prime over the reanimated Soundwave (who has the dead Bumblee's body as his head, with Dr. Venom in it, and the ghosts of Greenshirt Joe's ejecting from his cassette cavity...while Battleforce 2000, the "futuristic" G.I. Joe sub-team now 15 years out-of-date rushes into battle against the forces of Decepticobra...while fucking Crocmaster steps out of a manhole with two giant crocodiles that make meals of other Green Shirts.

That's just two pages. Also in this issue? Readings from the Decepticobra Bible, a connection drawn between the angel Metatraon and the Decepticon Megatron, Snake Eyes fucking cold walking into a Cybertronian saloon, climbing up a stool and then starting a bar fight (and winning!), an incredible new design for Astrotrain (in both his train engine and space shuttle mode), a school bus transformer (has there really never been a school bus Transformers before? That's one of several vehicle modes for Transformers that I can't believe no one has ever done, but I don't want to mention the others in case I ever get a chance to write a Transformers comic book, and thus completing one of my life-long dreams), Tunnel Rat tunneling through the gutters of the comic, a cameo Kwinn and, I don't know, about a million goddam other things.

Is there a better comic book in the world? Shut up, there is not.


SallyP said...

Saga was usual...and Convergence was a convoluted mess.

Can't we just have Barry wake up in a shower, and go back to the real books and pretend this whole mess never happened?

Anonymous said...

Final Crisis
Zero Hour
Final Crisis

EIGHT comix events about the fearsomely unstable nature of the DCU. Six of them in the last decade! That's plumb crazy.

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

If I remember there is a post-Infinite Crisis issue of Justice Society where Power Girl returns to the newly recreated Earth 2, only to discover that there is already a Power Girl there. The implication seems to be that when the universe was recreated Power Girl was recreated too, even though there was another one of her off in another universe at the time.

I imagine you could say something similar happened here. Brainiac snatches cities out of time moments before a "reboot" occurs. When the universe reboots it recreates any missing characters.

So which character is the "real" one? That's getting into philosophy. But I imagine that since both characters are in some way "descended" from the pre-reboot version of the character, they are both the "real" one in some sense.